Bracket envy and an introduction to traditional Chinese wooden architecture at Pingyao’s Zhenguo Temple

1000 years ago, back when Europe was clawing its way out of the dark ages, China already had a well established system of building standards.  The Chinese consulted manuals to standardize the building process and did so with remarkable success considering the enormous size of the country.  The basis of their traditional architecture was modular:  the Chinese used pre-made frames and pillars set at established intervals.  The boards used to make walls had inset notches so they nestled together entirely without nails at the the corners—ancient Lincoln Logs, yaaaaaaassssss!  Even though the buildings were made of wood, which you’d think of as being quite vulnerable to fire and weather extremes, the structures were long-lasting because any damaged parts could easily be replaced with the prefab building elements.  And they were so flexible: if people wanted to make a building larger they just popped out a wall and—presto-expando!—-new building.

Zhenguo Temple, a UNESCO World Heritage Site about a 15 minute drive outside the city of Pingyao in northern China, is the perfect place get an up close look at some fancy Chinese Lincoln Log action.

hall

You walk into the temple complex through a kind of gate-temple called Tianwang Hall.  (The bricks covering the wood were added in the in the 1800’s.)  Feeling impressed by those fancy brackets under the eaves?  Well you just hold on because….

brackets

….you haven’t even imagined how fancy brackets can be until you’ve taken a gander at Wanfo Hall.

wanfohall

Wanfo Hall was built in 963 and it is one of the oldest wooden buildings in China.  (No photos were allowed of the Buddha statues inside.)

lincolnlogs

Seriously people: this building is kind of smallish, so what’s with the superabundance of brackets?  Is this like overcompensation for insecure temples?

monsterI’m a fan of the fantasy creature on the edge of the roof of Wanfo Hall.

elephant

This wood elephant is nifty too.

fresco

The temple’s frescos are supposed to be from the 10th century but I think they look a lot like present day manga.

HOB and I were hungry when we returned to Pingyao after visiting Zhenguo Temple.  We couldn’t find picnic foods at the grocery store and Pingyao’s restaurants were touristy and unappealing.

In case you’re ever in a similar situation, here’s how you can find decent, cheap food when you’re in a touristy area: figure out where the workers are eating.

tables

Just outside the walls of Pingyao we saw taxi drivers pulling over to a roadside stand along with staff from the tourist attractions.  I announced to HOB “We’re eating here!”  (HOB used to object to my food-selection bossiness: now, like the smart man he is, he acquiesces and enjoys his cheap, tasty meals without argument.)

noodles

A cook was pressing fresh noodles directly into a vat of boiling water and we pointed at two bowls to order.

plate

Not only were the noodles delicious, but we enjoyed the company of a kind man who loaded up our bowls with extra hot sauce.

 

How we got to Zhenguo Temple: train from Beijing to Pingyao and then the proprietor of our guest house drove us to the temple.
Where we slept: Pingyao Jiaxin Guesthouse. Price: 7.50€ for a double. Recommended: yes.

 

 

25 comments

  1. As always, WOB, thanks for an interesting tour of this beautiful Temple. I love traveling with you guys.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! As you can tell our travel itinerary was kind of like “Let’s forget everything we planned and spend the whole trip eating and visiting temples…..”

      Like

  2. I learn a lot from your travels….but never expected to learn about Chinese prefabs!
    Quite agree about where to eat…follow the – local – crowd. Worked for us every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I visited Chicago a couple of times as a kid and we ate at this pizza place which I thought was the most special pizza of all time. Now I’ve been working next door to that pizza place for over 20 years and have never eaten there—no one from Chicago eats there, but tourists love it. I can recommend a great Cuban sandwich shop a block a way, though, where all the workers go for lunch…….

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow its so pretty and intricate! As always lovely pictures.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! There was another temple we visited that morning as well—another UNESCO site—-with superb sculptures. It is quite a region for art and architecture!

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  4. I think the brackets look more appealing than the food! 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maybe with extra hot sauce….. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Cool! I was just thinking of China today – remembering being there on May Day 1988 – crazy – the air thick with sands from the Gobi desert. I loved the temples and crazy rock gardens – all much more extravagant than Japan where I’d just been for close to 4 years.
    I hope there’s more! You guys always find the most remarkable corners of a place.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow—you’ve lived all over the world! Yes, of course there’s more…..stay tuned.

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  6. Did you ever get to see hand pulled noodles being made? It’s way more impressive than seeing pizzas being thrown in the air. I always got so engrossed in watching that I have no video to remind me of these guys making noodles with their bare hands.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we saw the big taffy-style piece of dough being thumped and streeeeeetched out. Very theatrical!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And also, being cut into strips with bare fingers! Just like a kung fu movie

        Liked by 1 person

  7. You’re in China! I must admit I’ve lost track of Worpress for a few month, but this is a great surprise, will read all your post I’ve missed!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Life outside of WordPress? Never!!!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Ah .. been to China a number of times, and got many friends there: ping if you need any help

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re lucky to have made several trips—it’s too huge of a country for just one visit. What’s your favorite region?

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I knew there was a reason I liked you… Like me, you look up when you travel and notice things most people don’t. I just have to be careful not to step in a hole! China is on the bucket list, but have to find a tour company (because I’m not NEARLY as adventurous as the WOB!) that will let Hubs bring his wheelchair or scooter. Question…do you like extra hot sauce? Cuz I think it’s really HOT over there… Yes, no, don’t know (you fried your tastebuds!)?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well if you’re going to go to the trouble to visit the other side of the world you should at least look up, right? I do hope you and Hubs can make it—the country is not the most accessible for those using mobility devices, though perhaps a good tour company can sort that out.

      I adore hot sauce and now, having eaten Szechuan food in China (which is swimming in chili oil and dried chilies) I long for it with desperation.

      Like

  10. So glad hubby bows the cheap advice of wifey …along with local great experiences with local folks. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s in charge of directions though—he’s better at that. 🙂

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  11. Mmmm, freshly made noodles!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! And the crazy part was the guy could make different types of noodles, including long flat noodles, all right there on the street.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Appealing food loaded with kindness and hot sauce- you are lucky.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I credit our good luck to dorky matching backpacks….

      Liked by 1 person

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